New Releases for the Week of August 17, 2018


CRAZY RICH ASIANS

(Warner Brothers) Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno. Directed by Jon M. Chu

A native New Yorker of Asian descent falls in love with a young man from Singapore. As things are starting to get serious between them, she is invited to meet his family and it turns out that they’re crazy wealthy – not to mention just plain crazy. This romantic comedy has been getting strong reviews which is unusual for any rom-com.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened on Wednesday)

Rating: PG -13 (for some suggestive content and language)

1945

(Menemsha) Peter Rudolph, Bence Tasnádi, Tomás Szabó Kimmel, Dóra Sztarenki. As a small Hungarian village prepares for the wedding of the son of the town clerk one morning in August 1945, two mysterious strangers in black show up at the railway station, starting a chain reaction as the town is brought short to face the actions of the War.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Alpha

(Columbia) Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor Varela, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhanneson. In the Ice Age, a young hunter is injured. Left to die, he helps an injured wolf. The two face a harsh world as allies as he struggles to reach home before winter.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense peril)

Gold

(ZEE) Akshay Kumar, Mouni Roy, Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh. In 1948 India was a newly minted country, released from colonial status from the British empire. They were participating in their first Olympic Games as an independent nation. Their field hockey team was set to take on the British team. They were not expected to win. You can imagine what happened next.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Sports Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

The Little Mermaid

(Freestyle) Poppy Drayton, Shirley MacLaine, William Moseley, Gina Gershon. Loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fable, a young reporter and his niece discover a beautiful girl that they suspect might be the real Little Mermaid.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG (for action)

Mile 22

(STX) Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, John Malkovich. A police officer with sensitive information needs to be smuggled out of his native country. Assigned to the job is an American intelligence officer and his elite tactical squad. However, in order to make the rendezvous at Mile Marker 22 he is going to have to run a gauntlet of those who want the cop silenced – and they seem to know every move he makes before he makes it. This is another collaboration between Wahlberg and director Peter Berg.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby, IMAX
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

Puzzle

(Sony Classics) Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Helen Piper Coxe. A suburban housewife, taken for granted by her family, develops a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles. She impulsively enters a jigsaw competition and finds herself immersed in a whole new world she could never have imagined.

See the trailer and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for language)

Summer of ‘84

(Gunpowder & Sky) Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Tiera Skovye. A group of suburban teens suspect that the neighborhood cop might be the serial killer who has been plaguing their town. They spend the summer keeping an eye on him and looking for evidence. But the closer they come to discovering the truth, the more dangerous things get. This Florida Film Festival favorite has been compared to Stranger Things.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Friday and Saturday midnight shows only)
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Benched (Rounding Third)
Geetha Govindam
Kolamavu Kokila
Koode

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Billionaire Boys Club
Geetha Govindam
The Good Life
Koode
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Puppetmaster: The Littlest Reich

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Billionaire Boys Club
Down a Dark Hall
Geetha Govindam
The King
Koode
McQueen
Running for Grace
The Spy Gone North

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Geetha Govindam
Kolamavu Kokila

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Alpha
Crazy Rich Asians
The Little Mermaid
Mile 22
Summer of ‘84

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X-Men: Apocalypse


Oscar Isaac strikes a dramatic pose.

Oscar Isaac strikes a dramatic pose.

(2016) Superhero (20th Century Fox) James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Lana Condor, Olivia Munn, Warren Scherer, Hugh Jackman, Monique Ganderton, Rochelle Kooky, Ally Sheedy. Directed by Bryan Singer

 

Human history is full of the strong oppressing the weak. Sometimes the strong are that in name only; they have strength only in the will to seize power and wield it. Other times they have the strength of numbers. Power can come from many different sources.

In the world of X-Men: Apocalypse the oppressed are feared by the oppressors. Mutants are powerful but they are few in numbers; it is the non-mutants who fear what they can potentially do. Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy), once the most powerful telepathic mind in the world, sees things differently. He sees a world in which mutants and normals live harmoniously, in which mutants use their powers to protect those who have none. He’s established a school to teach young mutants to fulfill exactly that purpose.

It is a different world than what Magneto (Fassbender) sees but with good reason. The Master of Magnetism is powerful, but was unable to prevent the deaths of his parents at Auschwitz, nor could he protect his wife and daughter while he lived in anonymous exile in Poland (methinks Magneto should stay away from Poland, where Auschwitz is also located, because horrible things seem to happen to him there). He is ripe for being swayed over to the dark side of things.

Enter Apocalypse (Isaac). He may or may not have been the first Mutant, but he is certainly among the most powerful. In his day, he had been worshipped as a God and in fact ruled Egypt as a living God, a despotic tyrant who was eventually ambushed by those who opposed his rule and buried under the rubble of a collapsed pyramid, knocked unconscious before he could change his psyche to the body of a younger man (which is how he remains immortal). His long slumber has been interrupted by misguided followers of his cult and now he’s back in the world, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

In his day, the mutants ruled the normals but that’s not what is happening in the 1980s. It is the height of the cold war and new wave, an era in which the mutants are regarded with suspicion after what happened in the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Apocalypse always has a personal guard of four powerful mutants whose powers are enhanced and in this case he chooses Storm (Shipp) with powers over the weather, Psylocke (Munn) who can hurl telepathic daggers and Angel (Hardy) with wings of steel that can hurl steel projectiles.

In the meantime, Mystique (Lawrence) has chosen to remain in her human form and is recruiting new mutants to the Xavier School, including the telepath Jean Grey (Turner) who has the potential to be even more powerful than Xavier himself, Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee) who can teleport and Scott Summers (Sheridan) who can shoot incredibly strong force bolts from his eyes. Along with Hank McCoy (Hoult) – the ever-loving Beast and resident scientist for the group – and Havok (Till), Summers’ brother whose force beams come out of his chest, and Quicksilver (Peters), a super-speedster, the school is full of very powerful and dangerous kids which attracts the attention of Col. Stryker (Helman) who has a mutant experiment of his own going at Alkili Lake.

Now we’re setting up a potential battle – Apocalypse who wants to destroy the world and repopulate it with mutants who would be the only ones strong enough to withstand the destruction, and Xavier who wants to save the world. Each has their own team; Apocalypse with the Four Horsemen, Xavier with the X-Men and they will duke it out with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

Of course, the plot is fairly endemic to most superhero movies especially this year when it is the third of three different movies from three different studios all with superheroes battling one another. While critics have been decrying the similarity of the plots, there are subtle differences in each that for my money make them all different takes on a similar but not identical theme.

Here the theme has to do with the oppression of minorities and whether it is the responsibility of those with power to protect their own at the expense of everyone else, or to protect those who need it. The latter is a crucial question in the four color world of superheroes and one which does get repeated fairly regularly in the cinematic world of superheroes as well; as was said in a certain webslinger’s movie, with great power comes great responsibility.

As summer blockbusters go, it has plenty of spectacular action and amazing visuals which is what one looks for in a hot weather diversion. Unfortunately, the movie also has what has proven to be a superhero movie killer on many occasions recently; too many characters. I only touched on the main characters here and there were many others involved in the film, like Wolverine (Jackman) who shows up in a memorable cameo appearance in Jackman’s penultimate appearance as the character.

This is based on a classic comic story arc which is one I was actually familiar with as it was written while I was still collecting comics. The Apocalypse of the comic books was, in my opinion, much more of a villain than he is here and certainly much more dangerous, even though Isaac turns in a pretty strong performance despite the layers and layers of make-up. The Apocalypse of the comics was simply evil and didn’t really have an agenda beyond ruling the world; here, he has a philosophy which is supposed to give him motivation but ends up as unnecessary clutter. There’s a lot of that here, including the Wolverine appearance.

The producers of the X-Men franchise have said that this will conclude the trilogy started in X-Men: First Class in 2011. They have established several new young versions of some of the more beloved characters in the franchise. Where they will go with them is anybody’s guess but you can be sure there will be plenty more X-Men action coming in the future from Fox, for whom this franchise has been a gold mine.

This isn’t the weakest entry in the X-Men franchise but it’s certainly not the strongest. I think some judicious trimming of the number of characters as well as the plot itself (the movie clocks in at well over two hours) might have been beneficial to the final product. Singer has always had the best grip on the X-Men universe of any of the directors who have tackled it. Hopefully whomever inherits the reins will improve on this film which is merely decent.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the visuals are spectacular. It does give the First Class trilogy a nice definite conclusion.
REASONS TO STAY: Feels bloated and overpopulated with characters. Apocalypse felt far more dangerous in the comic book edition than he did here.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of superhero action and destruction, some brief strong language and a scene that is sexually suggestive.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Oscar Isaac’s voice was recorded with three different types of microphones, and then melded together to create the voice of Apocalypse.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Fantastic Four
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Keeper of Darkness

Slow West


Shave every day and you'll always look keen.

Shave every day and you’ll always look keen.

(2015) Western (A24) Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann, Ken Blackburn, Alex Macqueen, Jeffrey Thomas, Michael Shalley, Stuart Martin, James Martin, Tony Croft, Karl Willetts, Edwin Wright, Andrew Robertt, Brian Sergent, Bryan Michael Mills, Kalani Queypo, Stuart Bowman, Brooke Williams, Madeleine Sami. Directed by John Maclean

The Western is kind of a finite genre. There are all sorts of stories you can tell in that setting, but by and large, most of them have already been told for the most part. You can go the ultra-violent route, or the lyrical; either way, there isn’t a lot that can be completely classified as new and exciting when it comes to Westerns.

Young Jay Cavendish (Smit-McPhee), the son of a Scottish aristocrat, has come to Colorado territory in 1871 (just five years before it would achieve statehood) in search of a girl – now that’s something I’d expect a 16-year-old to do. The girl, Rose Ross (Pistorius) has fled Scotland under somewhat obscure circumstances (which are, to be fair, revealed as the events unspool) and Jay, who was head over heels for her, has decided that the only thing to do is go be with her in America if that’s what it takes. So he heads out, woefully unprepared, into territory full of bandits, desperadoes and bounty hunters.

When he comes afoul of a former Union army officer (Thomas) he is rescued by Silas Selleck (Fassbender), a brooding, lonesome rider who has an agenda of his own. He agrees to protect Jay on his journey to find Rose, whose location he has discovered. Also on the way is Payne (Mendelsohn), a dandified bounty hunter who knows that Rose has a price on her head and means to collect.

That’s essentially all the story there is, but that’s all freshman director John Maclean needs. Maclean is better known for playing keyboards for the Beta Band, a Scottish band with a cultish following. His direction here has an autumnal quality; we get a sense of inevitability throughout, as we watch the young boyish Jay try to navigate the ugliness of men and the beauty of the land and reconcile the two. He is aided by the world-weary Silas, who knows both land and men and doesn’t trust either. Jay’s naiveté touches him and he ends up with an almost fatherly protective stance. It’s an interesting turn of  character and Fassbender pulls it off flawlessly.

Fassbender actually makes quite a decent Western hero, so much so that I wouldn’t mind seeing him on horseback again. His rugged good looks remind me of the Western heroes of a bygone age; his demeanor reminds me of Gary Cooper. Silas’ relationship with Jay isn’t typical of the Western sidekick/rough rider but there are elements of that here. Jay isn’t quite as eager as the average sidekick, but then again this is more his story than Silas’.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan gives us some beautiful images to look at. At the same time, we have some gorgeous music to listen to but surprisingly, it wasn’t composed by Maclean – Jed Kurzel did. Kurzel also has a rock band background, although his pedigree is in the Australian blues-rock band The Mess Hall. The vaguely folkish background music compliments the imagery nicely and establishes the melancholy mood.

This isn’t likely to be remembered as a seminal work for either the filmmaker or the genre, but it is a strong debut nonetheless. Certainly I would have liked an ending that felt less inevitable and there’s a throwaway kind of visual joke in which a character, wounded in a shootout, has a container of salt struck by a bullet shortly after him, allowing the powder to fall onto the wounds. Get it? I will give you that the climax does have some emotional impact, but not enough emotional resonance if you get what I’m saying. Smit-McPhee gives some gravitas to the pathos, possibly more than the scene deserves.

All in all, this is a strong work that made some waves at Sundance this year. It’s out on VOD and playing in selected theaters and should be one you’ll want to keep an eye out for. In a summer in which thoughtful, beautiful movies have been few and far between, this one stands out even if the field weren’t so weak. Maclean has a bright future as a filmmaker and you’ll want to get in on that action right away.

REASONS TO GO: Lyrically shot. Great music. Fassbender is a great Western hero.
REASONS TO STAY: Haphazard time jumps. Ending is a bit anti-climactic.
FAMILY VALUES: Western violence and a few choice cuss words.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The South Island of New Zealand substituted for the American West.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/7/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Seraphim Falls
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Max

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!

(2014) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Terry Notary, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer, Jon Eyez, Enrique Murciano, Doc Shaw, Lee Ross, Keir O’Donnell, Kevin Rankin, Jocko Sims, Mustafa Harris, Deneen Tyler. Directed by Matt Reeves

As we can see by the events taking place on the Gaza Strip, two separate cultures in the same place have a difficult time coexisting. Each suspicious of the other, neither truly listening or trying to live in peace, there are always elements within that push for the complete annihilation of the other. Can you imagine how much worse it would be if the two cultures weren’t even the same species? Add into the mix that one of those cultures has been decimated by plague and war and blames the other for it and you have a powderkeg waiting to explode.

But that’s just the situation in Northern California. A ragtag human colony has gained a foothold in the ruined city of San Francisco. Led by Dreyfus (Oldman), his right hand man Malcolm (Clarke) sets into the Muir Woods of Marin County to see if they can reroute the power lines leading from a hydroelectric dam to go South instead of North and thus keep the power on in the human colony whose own generators are beginning to fail. However, his lone hydroelectric engineer Carver (Acevedo) runs into a pair of apes in the woods and shoots one of them, wounding him.

What Carver doesn’t know is that this is the colony of apes led by Caesar (Serkis), the genetically enhanced ape who has used the same drug that caused the end of mankind to enhance the intelligence of several of his fellow apes. They are beginning to learn to talk and have created a peaceful arboreal society in the woods. Caesar is none to pleased about it and orders the humans to go which they do posthaste.

Licking their wounds back at the colony, Dreyfus and Malcolm discuss the situation. They need that power. There are no other options. The apes however have followed the humans back home and Caesar, on horseback, informs the humans that they aren’t welcome in ape territory. They then return the backpack of Malcolm’s son Alexander (Smit-McPhee) who had dropped it in the chaos following their unexpected encounter.

Knowing that the survival of their colony depends on that power, Malcolm heads back to the woods accompanied by Carver, Malcolm’s girlfriend Ellie (Russell) who is a nurse, Alexander, Foster (Eyez) and Kemp (Murciano). Malcolm asks to speak to Caesar and plead the case of the humans. When Caesar agrees to let the humans do their human work, it arouses the ire of Koba (Kebbell), an ape who had spent much of the first part of his life in labs being experimented upon by human researchers. His hatred for humans is pathological and he means to wipe them out and remove their menace from the apes lives forever.

For his part, Carver hates the apes and blames them for the Simian flu (although the flu was created by human scientists) that wiped out the majority of the human race. He doesn’t trust the apes as far as he can throw them and as it turns out. Koba feels the same way about the humans  and as it turns out, they’re both right – Koba decides to see what the humans are up to in the city and discovers they have a large cache of guns and are testing them out. He thinks they’re planning an assault on the apes camp. Koba decides to enact a plan which is basically a “get them before they can get you” kind of thing and the fragile peace between the apes and humans are put in jeopardy and conflict between the two colonies becomes inevitable. Can either race survive a war?

This can be considered something of a parable, particularly in light of what’s going on between the Israelis and Palestinians although something tells me that it wasn’t initially meant that way. However, whether you choose to view the film that way or not, this is rip-roaring entertainment with maybe the best CGI for any film ever.

Let me explain that last sentence. The apes are motion capture with human actors supplying movement and voices. There are also other CGI animals including bears and horses. Every last one of these animals looks real and natural. Each of the characters have scars and faces that are recognizable. If you thought the make-up for the original Planet of the Apes franchise was groundbreaking, so too is the motion capture here. It’s bloody amazing.

Clarke, an Australian actor who has mostly done supporting roles in films like White House Down and Rabbit-Proof Fence, is likely best-known in the States for his work in the Showtime series Brotherhood. He proves himself a fairly able lead although whether or not that will translate into high profile roles in the future is somewhat ambiguous. He takes a backseat to Serkis whose powerful portrayal of Caesar reminds us that there is nobody better at motion capture in the business.

The eventual outcome of the story is pretty much a foregone conclusion which does make the movie a bit predictable. Some have groused that the Apes during the battle sequence seem to take to the guns a bit too easily but I disagree. They are far from expert marksmen and mostly shoot wildly when they shoot at all. When the clips are empty, they don’t know how to reload. Mostly, it is their sheer numbers and superior physical strength that makes them formidable.

At the end of the day, while the movie may not be perfect it is certainly one of the more entertaining summer movies of a disappointing season. It is likely to take its place as one of the biggest box office winners of the year, although it’s too early to tell if the numbers it got in its first week will be sustained until the beginning of August when Guardians of the Galaxy is likely to make a solid run. But until then, I can wholeheartedly recommend this as a good choice for a movie night out for just about anyone.

REASONS TO GO: Maybe some of the best CGI effects ever. Compelling story. Serkis does a terrific job.

REASONS TO STAY: A bit predictable.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some fairly intense and occasionally brutal violence. A couple of instances of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Reeves gave Keri Russell her first big break by casting her in the lead role of his TV show Felicity.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/17/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: King Kong

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Snowpiercer

New Releases for the Week of July 11, 2014


Dawn of the Planet of the ApesDAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

(20th Century Fox) Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer. Directed by Matt Reeves

Years after a horrible plague decimated the human race – one brought on by the same drug that made apes smarter – a lone ragtag band of humans living in a fortified enclave in San Francisco venture into the woods to rig a dam to provide desperately needed power for their colony. However, a peaceful  village of apes – led by Caesar, the young chimp born of an ape who had been injected with the original formula – don’t trust the humans and don’t want them around. There are some who don’t simply want them at the dam, they want them not to exist anymore. There are some humans who are fine with the apes being remanded to the endangered species list. Something’s got to give.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo, featurettes, premiere footage and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opened Thursday)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language)

Bangalore Days

(Star) Dulquer Salmaan, Nazriya Nazim, Nivin Pauly, Parvathy. Three cousins, for various reasons, make their way to Bangalore from Kerala to pursue their dreams or in one case, to help their husband pursue his. They will find heartbreak, love, redemption and bike racing in one of India’s most beautiful cities.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Drushyam

(Suresh) Venkatesh, Meena, Nadhiya, Baby Esther. When the wife and daughter of a movie buff/cable TV installer accidentally kill the son of a police inspector who was trying to blackmail them with indiscreet photos he had taken of the daughter in a public bathroom, the father uses his knowledge of movies to help his family “get away with it.” This movie is a Telugu remake of the highest grossing Malayalam film of all time.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania

(Dharma) Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Siddharth Shukla, Ashutosh Rana. A Hindi woman, bound for Delhi and an arranged marriage, decides to live life to the fullest while she still can. She meets a free-spirited unconventional college student and the pair gradually fall deeply in love. However, they will have to overcome a good deal of obstacles if they are to wind up together.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Rage

(RLJ/Image) Nicolas Cage, Danny Glover, Rachel Nichols, Peter Stormare.  An All-American businessman seems to be leading an ideal life; success, a family, a nice home. But when his teenage daughter is abducted from their home, his violent past has emerged to catch up with him. He will have to put together his old crew in order to beat his past and rescue his daughter.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for violence, language and drug content)

Third Person

(Sony Classics) Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Kim Basinger. Three couples in New York, Rome and Paris try to balance love and need in an atmosphere of secrets – some devastating – as their interrelated stories begin to entwine. From writer/director Paul Haggis, the originator of the genre with Traffic.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexuality/nudity)

ParaNorman


ParaNorman

Norman has a different kind of homework.

(2012) Animated Feature (Focus) Starring the voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Alex Borstein, Jodelle Ferland, John Goodman, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Elaine Stritch, Tucker Albrizzi, Jeff Garlin. Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler

 

There are those who believe that death brings peace, at long last, for the living. Of course, given what life is like why on earth – or beyond it – should we expect that? Why wouldn’t the afterlife be just as bothersome and as annoying as life is?

For Norman (Smit-McPhee) the current life is plenty bothersome and annoying. He is the weird kid, picked on by bullies like Alvin (Mintz-Plasse), his own exasperated sister Courtney (Kendrick), his mom (Mann) who doesn’t really understand him but tries to, and his dad (Garlin) who doesn’t even try.

See, Norman lives in a New England village called Blithe Hollow (a combination of Blithe Spirits and Sleepy Hollow  – not the first nod to both the film and literature of the spooky) which is famous for executing a witch 300 years earlier. Norman also happens to see dead people. And talk to them. And they, for their part, talk back. In fact, Norman has more friends among the dead than he does the living. His only corporeal friend is Neil (Albrizzi), a rotund but indefatigably cheerful kid who accepts things more or less at face value.

The witch, you see, had managed just before dying to affix a pretty awful curse on the town that had been stemmed off by members of Norman’s family. The latest in the line, an uncle (Goodman) has a bum ticker and is trying to transfer his knowledge to Norman but doesn’t quite make it to the big day. That’s ok; he can talk to Norman anyway.

Norman is tasked with reading from a sacred book in a certain spot. The problem is, Norman doesn’t understand what he’s reading and why it will save the town from being beset by the walking dead. He will have to link up with unlikely allies and fight against some unlikely opponents if he is to save Blithe Hollow from an army (all right, seven) of zombies.

The animation studio that gave us Coraline give us another horror-themed stop-motion animated feature that is as much for adults as it is for kids. Talk about finding your own niche. Still, if you can’t be Aardman (and how many studios really can be) this is a good place to be. Stop motion has an inherent 3D feel to it; there is depth to the faces here, from bags under the eyes of some of the characters to zits to sallow, sunken cheekbones. The movie itself is pretty dark in tone (most of it takes place at dusk or after dark) so the 3D doesn’t help it from that standpoint; still it looks pretty nifty as animated 3D features go.

The voice casting is on the quirky side. McPhee-Smit is best known for the downer action film The Road as well as the winter vampire remake Let Me In. In many ways, he had to carry a good deal of the latter film; he has to do it here vocally and does a pretty fine job of it. He has some pretty good chemistry with Mintz-Plasse and Albrizzi which helps a whole lot.

The writing is clever and lovers of horror films both classic and modern will get a kick out of the many, many references here. Whether it’s Norman being startled by a figure on his front lawn wearing a Jason-like goalie mask only to have it turn out to be Neil who calls out “Wanna play some hockey?” or nods to ghostly thrillers like The Sixth Sense and The Frighteners. However, there were some kids at the screening we went to who were clearly too young to really get the playful tone of the film. Wise parents should exercise caution before taking their kids as some of the situations and imagery is genuinely terrifying.

Still, there are some strong anti-bullying and acceptance of diversity messages here that will resonate with older kids. While the theatrical run is nearly done, this feels like it will be a Halloween kids classic that certainly out-charms and out-smarts fare like the Scooby-Doo movies and more classic TV kidfilms like Monster Mash. There is plenty of heart here and some surprisingly funny moments like Norman’s late grandmother (Stritch) who complains that the afterlife sucks because there is no cable. Having been in some pretty rustic places in the past couple of weeks, I can certainly relate.

REASONS TO GO: Clever and genuine. Lots of homages but doesn’t date itself.

REASONS TO STAY: Sometimes a little too cute for its own good…and a little too terrifying to really nail that core audience it wants.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the imagery is a bit too frightening for the very little. Some of the humor is a little crude as well; in fact, you might want to skip this if your kids are in single digits.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although none of the cursed zombies are referred to by name (except for Judge Hopkins), they all were given names; Eben Hardwick, Thaddeus Blackton, Lemuel Spalding, Amelia Wilcot, Goodie Temper and Wile London.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/17/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100. The reviews are pretty darn good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Nightmare Before Christmas

JOHN CARPENTER LOVERS: While there are several classic horror films referred to throughout the script either directly or indirectly, the ringtone on Norman’s phone is the iconic theme from Carpenter’s Halloween.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Premium Rush

New Releases for the Week of August 17, 2012


August 17, 2012

THE EXPENDABLES 2

(Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude van Damme. Directed by Simon West

After one of their own is killed, the team of badass mercenaries known as The Expendables set out to kick ass, take names and sip chamomile tea, and they’re all out of tea. So, they decide to rid the world of a whacko who wants to shift the balance of power by stealing weapons grade plutonium. No, not the president of Iran – some other nut job.

See the trailer, clips, a promo and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence, language and brief sexuality)

2016: Obama’s America

(Rocky Mountain) Dinesh D’souza, Shelby Steele, Paul Vitz, Alice Dewey. From the conservative author of the book The Roots of Obama’s Rage and the producer of the intelligent design promoting Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed comes this anti-Obama documentary which is, essentially, a series of Fox News talking heads explaining why the president sucks, how his policies will turn America into a barren wasteland and why the people who voted for him did so to prove that they aren’t racist. Michael Moore, you may respond.

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for thematic elements, brief language and smoking images)

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

(Disney) Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner, CJ Adams, Rosemarie DeWitt. A childless couple desperate to have a family but unable to, dream up the perfect child and put all their wishes into a box that they bury in the backyard. When a magical storm takes their powerful wish and deposits a child onto their doorstep, their lives – and the lives of those who live in their hometown – are transformed.

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and brief language)

ParaNorman

(Focus) Starring the voices of Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kodi Smit-McPhee. A boy who can see ghosts is the laughing stock of his town. But when a witch’s curse raises the dead, his gift may be the only thing separating his town from utter calamity. This from the people who brought you Coraline.  

See the trailer, clips, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language)

The Queen of Versailles

(Magnolia) Virginia Nebab, David Siegal, Jackie Siegal. Timeshare billionaires decide to build themselves a mansion which turns out to be the largest house in the United States. Their plans are threatened by the economic crash of 2008. The 1% begin to discover life on the other side.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and language)

Sparkle

(Tri-Star) Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Derek Luke, Mike Epps. The youngest of three sisters has big musical dreams and the talent to back it up. Not only that, she happens to be in one of the musical meccas of all time – Detroit in the 1960s. Struggling to become a star is hard enough but there are issues besetting her family that threaten to tear it apart.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content involving domestic abuse and drug material, and for some violence, language and smoking)